With the exception of Dorothy Parker, American poets have never been much for light verse. Ogden Nash doesn’t count, because his writing blows (File under: The Rhymes Usually Seem Forced, and also The Poems Are Not Funny). Things are different for English poets. This probably has something to do with their culture’s flair for irony, discomfort, and verbal wit, as well as its historical lack of an entrenched fundamentalist Protestantism. Think about it: even many of their Serious Poets are funny, like Shakespeare, Pope, Browning, Auden, Larkin, Louis MacNiece, Lord Byron, Donne (the dirty early stuff) and, well, you get the picture. Though not Milton. Oh god, not Milton.
Kingsley Amis is best known for novels like Lucky Jim, The Old Devils, and One Fat Englishman, all works that established him as one of the past century’s great comic novelists. But he was also a bang-up poet (seriously, he’s in the Norton anthologies) and a solid critic, so it isn’t surprising that his edition of The New Oxford Book of Light Verse (1987) is great. Here are two poems, both short, both always topical, neither serious.
“Limeraiku” (by Ted Pauker)
There’s a vile old man
Of Japan who roars at whores:
“Where’s your bloody fan?”
“Miss Twye” (by Gavin Ewart)
Miss Twye was soaping her breasts in the bath
When she heard behind her a meaning laugh
And to her amazement she discovered
A wicked man in the bathroom cupboard.